At 16-years-old, Emily Bauer of Cypress, Texas was just like any other high school sophomore. She was happy, loved hanging out with her friends, and liked to dye her hair crazy colors. She was smart and got straight A’s and B’s. Like many other teens, she experimented with smoking pot.
Emily also began to experiment with synthetic marijuana. The herbal mixture sprayed with chemicals that induce a high similar to marijuana was available at a nearby gas station labeled as “potpourri.” Emily began smoking it with her friends a few weeks before she was rushed to the ER on what would become the last day of her normal life as she knew it.
Now, Emily Bauer is at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas, where every day she works on re-learning how to move, speak, and eat. She’s now blind and is often confused. While she’s making progress, every day is a challenge for Emily who has difficulty eating, speaking, and moving her limbs. Her family stays by her side to support her along the way.
How did a healthy teenager like Emily end up in such a state? Her condition is the result of several severe strokes, and her family and doctors suspect the strokes were brought on by smoking the chemical-laced synthetic marijuana that Emily used with her friends.
Synthetic marijuana can cause changes in mood, disturbed perceptions, and high blood pressure. Emily first began experiencing severe migraines, which came on shortly after she began smoking synthetic pot. On December 7, 2012, Emily’s parents called 911 after she woke up from a nap acting psychotic and violent. Earlier, Emily had been smoking the “potpourri.” Emily was rushed to the hospital. When her conditions did not improve over the next 24 hours, doctors put her in an induced coma.
MRI’s showed that Emily had suffered from strokes that left the majority of her brain tissue dead. It’s possible that Emily’s blood pressure was elevated by the synthetic pot, causing a condition called vasculitis. Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels, which restricts blood and oxygen flow to the brain and can cause a stroke.
Emily’s parents were told that she was brain dead, and she would likely never be able to speak or move again. The decision was made to take Emily off of life support, but against all odds, she survived.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan suggests that synthetic marijuana is the second-most commonly used drug among high school students – second only to marijuana itself. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says that in 2010, synthetic marijuana led to 11,406 emergency room visits, mostly among teens ages 12-17.
The dangers of synthetic marijuana have led 41 one states to ban the substance and the Drug Enforcement Agency to classify it as a Schedule I Controlled Substance – in the same class as heroin. In 2012 President Obama, signed a bill banning five of the chemicals used to make synthetic pot. The legislation attempts to address one of the reasons synthetic marijuana is so dangerous – that its chemical components can be altered, which makes regulating it difficult and makes the potency of it vary from batch-to-batch.
Emily’s family hopes that her story can help prevent other parents from experiencing what they’re going through. They are in the process of starting a nonprofit organization called Synthetic Awareness for Emily (SAFE), which aims to educate people about the dangers of synthetic marijuana, as well as the warning signs of use.